This is a popular American painting addressing the theme of westward expansion. Rich with symbolism, it helped establish the mythic status of Daniel Boone and legends of western settlement.
George Caleb Bingham drew from Christian and classical imagery to justify and heroicize westward expansion and the ideal of Manifest Destiny, or the providential mission of the American nation to settle the frontier.
Referring to Boone's first journeys into Kentucky in the early 1770s, the group is pictured traveling from east to west, dramatically emerging from the sun-filled landscape in the background and crossing into the dark, foreboding landscape in the foreground, where the snarled trees help signify the dangerous power of nature.
Portrayed with idealized features and poses, the intrepid Daniel Boone, a rifle resting on his shoulder, suggests the figure of Moses - an archetype for pioneer patriarchs - leading his people toward the Promised Land, while Rebecca Boone, atop the horse, suggests the Virgin Mary, symbolizing the courageous spirit of pioneer women.
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
Washington University in St. Louis